(Guest post by Andrea Hulme)
People in exotic locations can be very photogenic. They are real people, though, going about their day. Taking their photo can be embarrassing for both the photographer and the subject. How can you capture great photos of real people without invading their privacy or making them feel uneasy?
I’m not a professional photographer, but I love to record my travelling with photos of everyday scenes, both to aid my failing memory and remind myself what a wonderful extraordinary world we live in. When photographing an ordinary person, I abide by a few principles that I’ve learned along the way.
Bide your time and build a rapport when taking portraits, especially close-ups
An interesting face is hard to resist but capturing it on film sometimes means getting close. This is not a time to be shy. Remember that your subjects are people too and human nature means very few are unresponsive to another taking a genuine interest in them. It can be really helpful if you’re travelling with a guide who can act as translator but a common spoken language is far from essential. Relax and have fun, butter people up. Fake it if you have to!
While it’s fabulous to have this kind of rapport, capturing the relationship between a primary subject and someone or something else is a great way to add atmosphere to a picture, whether it’s a look between a mother and child or an artisan with the tools of his trade.
Show some respect
Ask permission – and be prepared to take no for an answer. Gaining permission doesn’t always mean verbalising the request. Sometimes I raise my camera while still making eye contact with my subject.
Together with a smile or raised eyebrows, this is generally understood. If someone says no, it may mean you have learned something valuable about a culture, or it could just be that they’re having a bad hair day.
Get to know the local customs so that you don’t make a fool of yourself or, worse still, cause real offence. For example, though it’s extremely tempting to try and get closer to stunningly dressed dancers at a Bhutan tsechu, stepping on to the consecrated ground is strictly taboo. The dancers are in a state of meditation and performing religious dances, not putting on a tourist show.
Inappropriate behaviour from photographers only leads to dismay and criticism from the local population. It’s best not to worry if you miss a photo opportunity – a trip is all about the experience, which is a hard thing to enjoy if it’s by permanently looking at life through a lens.
Capture the unaware
they are doing. A person at work, or play, or going about their daily life is invariably of interest when you’re somewhere other than home. Sometimes, I still show them the image afterwards which can lead to an interchange and possibly another photo opportunity. Festivals offer an ideal chance to photograph people, often at their most colourful and animated, and at a time when many expect to be photographed.
Let them have a go
In some situations why not let those who have previously been your subjects take pictures of each other – and of you. It can cause quite a stir and you might be surprised at the results. At home I avoid having my photo taken but think it’s only fair if I’m brandishing a camera abroad.
On a recent trip to India after getting extremely hot and sweaty while exploring a rural market, a lady approached and asked for my picture. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a camera, so instead dragged me to cupboard of a photography ‘studio’ – I use the term loosely – to have my picture taken with her against a backdrop of Swiss meadows and mountains. The same week, after watching a dhoti clad man building a mud brick wall and plastering it with cow dung I was surprised first of all to see him take out a mobile phone – and then to snap a picture of me on it. Regrettably, once more, I was hardly looking my best . . .
Share your pictures
Gone are the days when I carried two cameras with me on my travels. The second one was a Polaroid so that occasionally I could show (and give) someone the picture I had just taken. It’s fantastic to now be able to show images to subjects immediately on screen.
Even in towns and cities, let alone remote villages, the looks on their faces as they react to the photo is fabulous. I still like to send the photos too if I can. If you say you’re going to do it, you MUST, no excuse.
Obtaining a correct address can sometimes prove tricky, but if you’re travelling with a guide or exploring locally with the owners of a camp or family property it’s possible that they will return to the same place again so send the images to them after extracting a promise that they’ll do the honours.
This article was contributed Andrea Hulme from adventure travel specialists Natural High Safaris (http://www.naturalhighsafaris.com/). Take a look at more photos and amazing “zest of life” experiences on Natural High’s blog: http://www.naturalhighsafaris.com/blog
Andrea Hulme’s travel experiences could fill a small novel; from a bit-part in a Tamil movie, to leading expeditions in Kyrgyzstan and negotiating landslides along the Karakoram highway. She’s helped prepare food for 50,000 in Amritsar’s Golden Temple and between jobs lived with a Mongolian family in the Gobi Desert.
Here she learned, among other things, how to milk a horse, a skill that proved invaluable in clinching the job at Natural High. Travel for Andrea is epitomised by incidental meetings with people and unexpected encounters with diverse cultures which leave one’s own expectations looking pale by comparison.